German Health Minister warns of ‘naive belief Omicron is the end of the pandemic’

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned that it was "naive to believe that Omicron is the end of the pandemic" as he defended the introduction of a general vaccine mandate in the fight against Covid-19 and announced a reform of the country's vaccination system.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in a face mask.
 German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wants to fight the pandemic with a vaccine mandate and new vaccines. HANNIBAL HANSCHKE / POOL / AFP

Although the disease process of the highly contagious Omicron variant was thought to be milder, an infection with this strain did not necessarily make one immune to the next variant that came along, he told Welt am Sonntag.

The vaccine mandate was therefore particularly important given the high number of people who remain unvaccinated, the SPD minister said.

“We have to accept that even with a vaccine mandate, we will never reach everybody. But I am convinced that there is a large group of unvaccinated people that we could motivate to have a vaccination through the mandate,” he said.

The mandate is due to be discussed by the end of January and Chancellor Olaf Scholz hopes to introduce the measure in “late February or early March”.

Lauterbach’s hope was that society would be relatively well protected thanks to the vaccine mandate.

“We should not get into a situation again where summer is deceptively good, but new variants surprise us in autumn without the vast majority of the population being vaccinated. Because then everything would start all over again,” he said.

Germany’s vaccination campaign picked up again on Friday after the end of the holiday period with 648,000 jabs administered, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

At least 42.3 percent of the population has so far received a booster jab, which is thought to be essential in providing effective protection against Omicron.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s plans to soften the impact of Omicron

Vaccine structure reform
Lauterbach also said in the interview that Germany’s vaccination strategy would be revamped.

“If we get a variant that is as contagious as Omicron, but significantly more deadly, we should be able to develop and produce a vaccine in a very short time,” Lauterbach said.

The government was already preparing for this eventuality to create a system whereby vaccines could be provided at speed at any moment in the event of serious new outbreaks, he said.

The Omicron variant currently represents 44 percent of Covid-19 infections in Germany, according to the RKI.

On Saturday, there were 55,889 new coronavirus infections within 24 hours, more than twice that of the previous week.

Like several other countries, Germany has already announced vaccine mandates for those in certain professions, including soldiers and health workers.

Neighbouring Austria has gone further and is on the verge of introducing a general vaccine mandate, in what could be the first in Europe.

READ ALSO: Austria presents first draft of vaccine mandate law: Here’s what we know

Member comments

  1. Convince people by force.
    That sounds like a great idea.
    Never in human history has that ended badly.

    1. There’s a long history of vaccine mandates. It’s not really anything new or weird. Vaccine hesitancy seems utterly weird to me. I’m grateful my parents ensured I got the MMR vaccine. For them there was no question that you wouldn’t want it for their children.

      There are many things that we’re required to do in order to be a member of a society and we accept those things. Often those things are enforced by the threat of financial penalties or prosecution. It’s not that weird. If the majority of the society disagrees strongly enough with the rule, then the political process has to take over to change that rule.

      I dislike that I’m required to pay for German’s national broadcasting service as I don’t use it, but I accept it as part of living here.

      1. I remember once hearing a story about a lady who used to cut the end of a joint of lamb off before putting it in the oven.
        One day the husband asked why she did this. The wife said she didn’t know its just what her mother used to.
        They called the mother and asked why she cut the end of the joint off.
        The mother replied I dont know its what my mother used to do.
        The called the grand mother who replied the same way.
        Then the asked the great grandmother. To which she replied. Because it was the only way to fit it in the oven.

        Just because its always been a particular way. Doesn’t mean its right.

        Im not against any vaccine, I am reluctant with everything until I have fully read and understood what is going on. It is merely due diligence.
        For yourself and your children.(until they are old enough to choose for themselves).

        The part that worries me the most. Is the relationship we are forming between the individual and the state. To mandate what goes into someone’s body is to remove their bodily sovereignty. To me, the basis of freedom is to be able to choose what happens to your own body.

        If I want to smoke. I can smoke but nobody can force me.
        If I want to drink. I drink but nobody can force me.
        When putting stuff into our bodies there is always a risk. That risk should always be the choice of the individual. After all, even drinking enough water can kill you.

        I am of the understanding that you can get out of paying the broadcasting fee. But I am of the understanding that even having a smart phone brings you into scope of needing it.

        1. > Im not against any vaccine, I am reluctant with everything until I have fully read and understood what is going on.

          Well there has been plenty of time to read up by now.

          > To me, the basis of freedom is to be able to choose what happens to your own body.

          How about everybody else’s freedom to not get a preventable disease? As vaccine’s aren’t 100% effective and can’t be administered to everyone and still unavailable in poorer parts of the world, and often least effective in the most vulnerable, then it needs the majority of people who can to get vaccinated to stop the spread.

          Presumably if someone had a contagious disease you don’t think they should be allowed to walk around and mingle with the general population who didn’t get a choice to be exposed to such a high risk? The only difference in this case is that the un-vaccinated haven’t definitely got the disease, just much more likely, and have a chance to spread it before they are aware they have contracted it.

          Perhaps I am slightly biased on the matter though as I need a small hospital visit during winter time and it has been delayed for two seasons now as capacity needs to be kept for Covid. The numbers suggest un-vaccinated are about 8 times more likely to end up in hospital (varying based on location and time period the data was collected in). One could also suppose a number of people who are vaccinated but end up in hospital anyway have been infected by un-vaccinated people (even if once or twice removed) as they are also more contagious (exact degree again varying but always more).

          1. Well you may have to wait for my reply it appears I’m “awaiting moderation.”

            When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.

            George R.R. Martin,

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Reader question: Can under-5s get vaccinated against Covid in Germany?

Vaccines for children aged six months to five-years-old are currently being rolled out in the United States. But can very young children also get a Covid jab in Germany?

Reader question: Can under-5s get vaccinated against Covid in Germany?

At the moment, only children aged five and above can get vaccinated against Covid-19 in Germany.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the use of a reduced dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine for children between the ages of five and 12, and this age group are able to get vaccinated by doctors at practices or at dedicated vaccine centres.

Back in May, Germany’s Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) issued a general Covid jab recommendation for 5-12 year olds. Previously, they had only recommended the shots to children with pre-existing conditions or vulnerable contacts.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends Covid jabs for all children over five

Of course, some parents are keen to get their younger children vaccinated as well – and news from the US, where both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech has recently been approved for children under five, has given them hope that the same will happen in Germany.

So what exactly is going on?

Well, at the moment, there does seem to be some movement in that direction, but things are still up in the air. 

Back in April, Moderna announced that it had submitted a request to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for a variation to the conditional marketing authorisation.

In plain English, this means they want permission to roll out a 25mg dose of their vaccine (as part of a two-dose series) for children aged six months to five years. This is the same dosage that is being used to vaccinate toddlers and babies in the US. 

In response to a question from The Local, Pfizer/BioNTech said it was also planning to file for authorisation for the under-fives vaccine from the EMA in early July. 

Depending on the EMA’s decision, this could pave the way for very young children to get the Covid jab in Germany.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the authorities will be recommending that all parents rush out and vaccinate their young’uns. 

Speaking to the Funke Media Group back in March, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) struck a cautious tone when talking about vaccines for under fives.

“In the studies, the vaccines have not shown the immunisation effect in young children that we had hoped for. But it is precisely in this age group that the effect must be particularly clearly proven,” he said.

“It is therefore unclear at the moment whether there will be a vaccination recommendation for under-fives in Germany.”

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

For its part, the EMA said it was in talks with Pfizer ahead of the submission of its application for approval.

“To date, no application for an extension of indication for the use of Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech) in children under five has been submitted to EMA,” a spokesperson for the EMA told The Local.

“However, EMA is in contact with the company about the possible submission of data and we will communicate on our website should we receive a request for an extension of indication.”

At the time of writing, the German Health Ministry and Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had not responded to a request for comment.